Do 3 Year Olds Need to Know How to Read?
Warning: It's An Excessively Long Rant
Like how I just started off the post all bold like that? Question. Definitive answer. Why can I be so brazen? Because it’s a ridiculous question that doesn’t require any further examination.
And yet, here’s where I sigh heavily and say, it does, doesn’t it?
This morning, my blood pressure got all up and I felt those stress hormones start flooding into my blood stream making me all FIGHT OR FLIGHT! FIGHT OR FLIGHT! (You know, I think I would have been a good look out in ancient times as I get riled up so doggone easily) over an article posted in the New York Times titled Fast Tracking to Kindergarten? I found it via a discussion on Quite Contrary. Many thanks to Mary for posting!
In the article, which you should read, you learn that there are centers in the USA (primarily New York City) sprouting up left and right where kids as young as 2, 3, 4 and 5 go to be tutored. Here’s an excerpt from the article:
Other tutoring companies like Sylvan have also moved into the prekindergarten market. But Kumon, a Japanese import that calls itself the world’s largest math and reading enrichment program, has pushed most aggressively, admitting students as young as 2. Those young students have become an increasingly important part of its business: Kumon grew by about 12 percent last year, to 250,000 students nationwide; Junior Kumon grew by more than 30 percent. In New York, where the company is colonizing storefronts like so many Starbucks, enrollment in Junior Kumon has tripled since it began opening centers in 2007.
“Age 3 is the sweet spot,” said Joseph Nativo, chief financial officer for Kumon North America. “But if they’re out of a diaper and can sit still with a Kumon instructor for 15 minutes, we will take them.”
What upsets me so deeply about this movement is watching the shift in our understanding of what is developmentally appropriate for our kids. It’s as if we’ve thrown all science, history, logic, common sense, the baby with the bath water out the window. It is not developmentally appropriate for 3 year olds to know how to read. What they are doing is rote memorization. Their brains are not developed enough to process the information they are reading. So what then, is the point?
It’s not learning. It’s regurgitation. And as parents, we all know what happens with regurgitation— it stinks up the joint and we’re the ones left cleaning it up.
The other thing that is deeply disturbing about this movement is the polarizing shift away from connectivity and socialization. We have traded the skill of knowing how to read, with the skills of: conflict resolution, understanding interpersonal dynamics, knowing how to read a person, picking up on social cues, empathy(!).
Now don’t get me wrong. Reading to your child is fan-flippin-tastic! Creating stories together is incredible. Hearing your child read for the first time? Downright magical.
And heck, perhaps you even learned how to read at age 3 or have a 3 year old now who does. There are kids who are just naturally born with an insanely awesome ability to decode symbols (they’re super strong visual learners) and they’re amazing.
But kids who naturally learn to read at 3—and still I’d argue that it’s visual decoding not the higher level skill of comprehending unless they’re geniuses, which, of course some absolutely are—fall into an exceptionally narrow, almost non-existent margin.
So to “force” kids to study at age 2, 3, 4 or 5 just to try to squeeze them into that narrow, almost non-existent margin is, well, I’m going to pull my punch and say, it’s just not developmentally appropriate.
Listen, these parents’ hearts are in the right places. They honestly just want what’s best for their kids. And with the current state of fear that runs our educational system, (teachers, you better get those test scores up or else you’ll be fired) it’s no wonder that we’re all hyped up and anxious about “winning the future.” What upsets me and got my blood pumping today is the idea, the assertion, that this is what’s best for kids.
Perhaps if we worked within our communities and existing school systems, we wouldn’t see this insidious creeping-in of corporate culture telling parents their children need homework at 2, 3, 4 and 5 years of age. I fear this serves as a diversion from the real work that we can do together as a country.
The cynic in me says this is big business. And let’s be honest, big business doesn’t always have the best intentions when it comes to our kids. If they did, they wouldn’t sell our kids toys with lead in them, try to convince our 5 year olds they need a padded bikini top, or ratchet up the hysteria by even offering tutoring programs to freshly potty trained toddlers.
Competition only works when it’s smart. This isn’t smart. It’s simply stoking parents’ fears and anxiety. Because it’s true, we all just want what’s best for our kids.
At the end of the day, what it comes down to is this: these programs don’t encourage the very REAL work that is required for kids to develop into innovative and creative thinkers. That work is done through questioning, playing, testing out ideas and generating new ones, forming associations and linking broader concepts together, honoring and respecting developmental milestones.
Our aim shouldn’t be to teach a generation how to regurgitate facts or figures. Our aim should be to teach a generation how to create a brighter future.